Maintaining the Conservation Value of Shifting Cultivation Landscapes Requires Spatially Explicit Interventions
Fallow vegetation within landscapes dominated by shifting cultivation represents a woody species pool of critical importance with considerable potential for biodiversity conservation. Here, through the analysis of factors that influence the early stages of fallow vegetation regrowth in two contrasting forest margin landscapes in Southern Cameroon, we assessed the impact of current trends of land use intensification and expansion of the cultivated areas, upon the conservation potential of shifting cultivation landscapes. We combined the analysis of plot and landscape scale factors and identified a complex set of variables that influence fallow regrowth processes in particular the characteristics of the agricultural matrix and the distance from forest. Overall we observed a decline in the fallow species pool, with composition becoming increasingly dominated by species adapted to recurrent disturbance. It is clear that without intervention and if present intensification trends continue, the potential of fallow vegetation to contribute to biodiversity conservation declines because of a reduced capacity, (1) to recover forest vegetation with anything like its original species composition, (2) to connect less disturbed forest patches for forest dependent organisms. Strategies to combat biodiversity loss, including promotion of agroforestry practices and the increase of old secondary forest cover, will need not only to operate at a landscape scale but also to be spatially explicit, reflecting the spatial pattern of species reservoirs and dispersal strategies and human usage across landscapes.